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I’ve been uninspired for naming this moon, so have settled on the obvious – Easter Moon, even though full moon was a week ago. Easter is a moveable feast and the date is wonderfully pagan, being the first Sunday closest to the full moon after the autumn equinox.

I love the equinoxes, much more than the solstices. I feel like I am standing on the edge of a circle, facing inwards, with my arms spread wide. On my right hand is the summer solstice past, and on my left is mid winter approaching. In front of me, across the circle, is the spring equinox, where I will be standing in 6 months time, again with my arms stretched out and marking the even-ness of days.

Of course the equinox was a few weeks ago, but I like the idea of celebrating or marking time according to the moon. Lunar time is easier to keep track of (maybe that’s a women’s thing too).

And I like that it moves. The first full moon after the equinox can be anywhere from right at the equinox to a month later.

I’ve not spent a whole autumn in Central before, and it’s been surprisingly changeable like I am used to on the coast in summer – hot and sunny one minute, then overcast and the temperature dropping the next. Normally autumn is my favourite time of year, but this autumn has thrown me, I wasn’t ready and I’m feeling the cold too much. I think it’s because on the coast the summer is usually crap, and the autumns are more settled, with the hot weather straddling the two. So autumn is often better than summer, or there is a sense of ease in the transition. But here in central, where the sunny day is god and infuses everything else that happens, it feels like a loss when the days get shorter and the leaves and temperature are dropping. It’s happened fast too, I don’t know if that’s normal for here.

Nice to have a few frosts though, I do like a decent frost.

This Easter I made hawthorn vinegar, and picked berries for drying.

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For a while I’ve been thinking this moon would be Four Berry Moon, a very local to me name, where hawthorn, elderberry, blackberry, and rosehip are all in fruit and available for harvest. I’d love to know what wild plants are in berry near you?

This could also be called Bioflavonoid Moon, but really, land-based peoples have had nourishing relationships with these plants for millennia before science learned how to take things apart ;-) However, as bioflavonoids are one of the Important Nutrients currently, instead of buying those expensive supplements or imported blueberries in the winter, try an infusion, tincture/liqueur, herbal honey or vinegar of any of those berries. Now is the time to dry or put up some herbal goodies for the colder months. Bioflavonoids have a range of actions in the body, notably as anti-oxidants. Eating the berries is the best way to get maximum amounts but only the blackberries are easy to do so. Bioflavanoids are soluble in water, and as far as I know vinegar and alcohol, so infusions, vinegar are another good way. Wine or jelly/jam too.

This month could also be called Crumble Moon (everyone seems intent on making fruit crumbles), but Changing Moon is what I’ve settled on, as the shift from summer to autumn is most apparent – willow and poplar leaves are starting to golden, the weather is alternately cool and hot, the light has changed as the sun heads towards the autumn equinox on the 21st. People seem susceptible to colds, as our bodies adapt to the shift in temperatures, and the rivers and lakes are not so warm with the longer, cooler nights.

The full moon was last Monday (a week ago), and again was rising big and yellow, being perigee (close to the earth) the day before. I missed most of the moon rises this month, there being too much cloud on the horizon – another autumn sign?

rosehips and hawthorns waiting to be brewed

I was going to call this full moon ‘summer moon’, but I realised I called the last one ‘summer solstice moon’, which would be a bit confusing. I like the idea of summer moon because it’s really the start of the summer here. Just in time for the end of the school holidays and people are back at work, and the weather finally settles into the hotter days of February. December and January are traditionally unpredictable – sometimes summery, sometimes rainy, sometimes, like this year, four seasons in one month.

This year the full moon (30th January) fell close to the cross quarter date – the mid point between the solstice (December 21) and the autumn equinox (March 21). Known in Celtic calendars as Lugnasad, or First fruits, it falls in NZ on the 2nd of February (2nd of August in the Northern Hemisphere). There was a bit of a conversation at Letters from Wetville about how to celebrate this in New Zealand and I like the idea of a transition between the business of the ‘summer’ holidays and the return to regular life.

Juliet Batten writes in Celebrating the Southern Seasons that Lugnasad was traditionally a time of tribal gathering for fairs and games. Nasad is a tribal gathering and Lug is the god of grain, so this was a harvest festival, a celebration of plenty. However she also writes that for Maori, this time of year was lean and not yet a harvest abundance. She suggests that a contemporary marking be the Festival of the Half Harvest, acknowledging where the resources are, where they are needed and how we all benefit by sharing. With the proximity to Waitangi Day (February 6th) and our current national pondering on how best to mark this day, a Sharing Festival seems fitting.

Back to the moon. I settled on Fruiting Moon because it seems fruit are the main seasonal food now. They’re perfect for the heat of summer, and here at least the stone fruit are in full swing – peaches, apricots, plums. I’m also getting plenty of wild strawberries from the garden, and the commercial berries seem to still be going strong. The wild plums are peaking, and the apples are just about starting. I suspect next year I’ll change the name to Swimming Moon, as that seems the most regular given at this time of year, and I don’t know the wild fruit season well enough yet. But this is the point of naming the moons – to learn what actually happens in nature over a long period of time.

scrumped apricots

wild strawberries drying

baby apples

If you’ve been watching the full moon this past week you’ll have noticed it seems large and at the time of full was sitting low in the sky. This is because it was perigee on Saturday (the 30th, the day of the full fullness). Perigee is when the moon is closest to the earth (apogee is when it’s furthest away). Perigee and apogee moons are associated with big tidal swings because of the intensity of the gravitational pull at this time.

I’ve been very aware of how little I know about what the moon does and why. Watching it rising golden each perfect, still evening in a week of our first really calm weather in months, it seems so inherent that anyone seeing this and paying attention would mark what was happening. Each night at the moment the moon rises a bit further to the south. At some point it must stop doing that but I have no idea when or why or what happens next and I can’t help but feel like I should, that these things are important in ways that we have forgotten. Not just for marking the passage of time, or knowing when it’s still going to be light, but for ways in which really paying attention to the moon focusses our intuition and appreciation of the subtle. The moon is mesmerisingly attractive – all those esoteric interpretations of the moon as representing the unconscious and intuition seem entirely practical to me now. Engagement with the moon literally changes our consciousness (not to mention our bodies. Hopefully there’ll be a post one day about the effects of the moon on our physicality).

Don’t know what happened to December, it just seemed to disappear. But I see in November I’ve made the cardinal blogging sin – saying I will post about something and then not doing it. Ooops.

There’s so much going on in nature at the moment, it’s hard to know what the essence of this month’s moon is, so I’ve gone with the obvious – it’s the first full moon after the summer solstice. The best weather is still to come in the later summer (Feb usually), but people are intent on holidaying now. Personally I find this time of year increasingly stressful and have decided that from now on I’m not going to try and get anything done to a time schedule from mid Dec to mid Jan (when everything seems to be either hyped up crazy or just shut down). Maybe it needs to be the chill out moon, or the hiatus moon.

There is a dilemma here – I have this idea that we’re meant to be having a break, but in terms of the natural world it’s a very busy time. Lots of harvesting from the wild to be done and the garden needs attention. If we were to be taking our cues from the land we’d give up the idea of a big celebration at high summer and do it in the middle of winter instead.

So in the spirit of easing stressful times here are two of my favourite herbs for helping me relax: St John’s wort and lavender. I made lavender oil today, and hope to get some vinegar put up this week too. I use the oil for massage anytime I am sore or stressed and need a bit of TCL. The vinegar I put on salads, but if lavender is too much like a toiletry for you to have in the kitchen it makes a wonderfully scented hair rinse (dilute first). You can read more about lavender medicine by New Mexico herbalist Kiva Rose.

I also made some SJW tincture this week and hope to do oil too. SJW (Hypericum perforatum) is popularly seen as an anti-depressant (and it can be very helpful for helping people with some kinds of depression), but the herb is used widely including as a liver support, menopausal support and as a nervine. I’ve used it mostly as a nervine –  it helps heal pain especially the sharp, shooting kind (including shingles and neuralgia) and for easing sore muscles – but it’s also a good herb to help manage stressful times. It seems to both strengthen the nervous system and help it to relax.

SJW started flowering a month ago (which was early) and is peaking now. It will flower for another month I’d say, so plenty of time for harvesting, although I find the best medicine comes from the earlier flowers. Here’s a medium sized plant in flower and bud, with last year’s old seedhead in my hand.

For a long time I’ve been wanting to learn/observe enough about the world I live in to be able to name the full moon each month according to what happens in nature at that time every year. This is a traditional practice in land based cultures – we know it in popular culture from Native American tribes. It’s a practical way of focussing on important natural events as well as keeping track of time (especially important in oral cultures). It also seems to be linked deeply to celebration.

Full moon naming is always going to be regional. This full moon (exact in two days) seems so obviously about the hawthorn blossoming, but maybe that isn’t true where you live. Perhaps hawthorns aren’t prolific where you live, or there is something else going on that is more pertinent. I’m also considering calling this moon Rabbit Moon because in the last few weeks the rabbits have all come out. However that seems like it could be something that varies much more according to how the season is going – the rabbits might peak much earlier or later depending on the weather, food sources etc. Hawthorn seems much more likely to be always (or mostly) blooming at this time. I could of course be wrong about that, I’ll have to wait for next year and the year after and the year after, and so on, to find out.

In the UK, the Hawthorn is called the May tree, because it flowers in time for the first of May (which is roughly the seasonal equivalent of the first of November). A traditional name so closely tied to a specific time suggests some reliability to hawthorn flowering.

Full moon naming should ideally be cultural too i.e. it should arise naturally from human observation and interaction with nature over a very long period of time. Because this is not currently important in NZ I have no idea what to call each moon, and it will be years before I can know if I am right about the names I choose, and even then the naming will have happened in isolation rather than arising out of our collective practice. But we have to start somewhere. It strikes me as one practical way of reconnecting ourselves with the land and re-establishing right relationship with where we live. One of the curses of the modern age is our lack of long time frames to understand the consequences of our actions. Learning how to name the moon again will help us hold a longer view in our hearts and minds. It grounds us not just in where we are today (or this year) but also in where we have come from and where we are heading.

What happens in nature to coincide with full moons is also dependent on the sun. The moon influences tides and hormones and all that watery stuff. The sun changes the world through light and heat. Both have an effect as they move closer and futher away. The sun over the year, the moon varying hugely from month to month. This month, the full moon is very close to the earth (perigee is on the 8th), which will bring big high and low tides.

This full moon is also closely linked to the cross quarter date of 31st October. It’s the point between the spring equinox (September 23, when the sun is half way between summer and winter) and the summer solstice (December 23, when the sun is at its height). But the moon dates move in relationship to the sun, so sometimes the full moon will be closer or further away from the solar marker dates. I have read somewhere that European pagan societies marked the year by the nearest full moon (or dark moon) to a certain solar time. So rather than the spring solstice exact, the celebration was at the nearest full moon to the spring solstice. We do this still with Easter, which falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere (our autumn). Maori do this also with Matariki (the Maori/Polynesian new year), which for some iwi is the first new moon following the rise of Matariki/Plieades in June (a stellar marker rather than a solar one).

Back to hawthorn. In the UK it seems to have a long tradition as a magic or spiritually potent plant. This makes so much sense to me – hawthorn in bloom seems the epitome of how the Brits have envisioned the fairy realms:

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